Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Question of Profession: Splitting Hairs


I am awake in the wee hours of the morning with a persistent voice in my head that shouts, “You’re no writer!”

I try to ignore this voice which tries to convince me being an amateur is less than being a professional. Writing is an art not measured by fame or fortune, or so I tell myself.
Certainly I would love to be recognized on a large scale, thrilled to have a best seller on the market but I cannot write with such thoughts in mind. I must write directly from my heart.
A quote I read recently comes to mind:
“Being an amateur author isn’t easy. It requires stamina, determination, and imperviousness to ridicule. Unwept, unhonored, unsung.”
- Leonard L. Knott
My curiosity is piqued. What do the terms professional and amateur really mean? I have a general idea but being the etymologist that I am (also amateur), I decide to delve into the finer points.
This is what I discovered: A professional is defined someone who is trained or skilled at something and performs this as a paying job.
The word amateur is Latin derived from French. (ametor, lover) and also means one who pursues an activity as a hobby or pastime or one lacking the skill of a professional.
It is clear to me that in these contexts I am an amateur.There is no glamour surrounding my writing and it is not my profession as it does not earn an income.
I don’t write for a newspaper nor am I a copywriter for an advertising firm. Screenplays are not my forte and neither are short stories. I am not the editor of a glossy magazine or a war correspondent. I haven’t written a book.
My creativity lives within my journals that include both essays and poetry. An amateur writer seems to lack the esteem and honor of his professional counterpart so I suppose in that sense I am unsung, unwept and unknown; certainly my name has been seldom in print.
I have been paid once in all my years of writing - a check for $25 for a short prose piece I submitted to a literary magazine. I was exhilarated, admittedly, and felt validated as a writer.
Since childhood my life and my writing have been intertwined. I attribute my love of language to the nurturing of my parents and to one particular English teacher.
I am continually absorbed in the whimsy of language and play with words even when I fear that the muse will not grant me inspiration. I am not college educated, having decided to be a full time wife and mother. In retrospect I realize that life experience has been the best teacher.
Being an amateur can be difficult, as Mr. Knott suggests. Derision plays its part, whether blatant or subtle, whether from external influences or self-induced. I am not impervious but in either case, ridicule be damned.
My efforts are not futile. My journals, essays and poetry are not pointless. What I feel or think is important to me and my stream-of-consciousness journals tap a creative source that is surprisingly deep, universal and something that my ego cannot take credit for.
Writing is my mission. My muse doesn’t seem to mind that I am unprofessional. She still comes calling, usually when I am clear and open to the creative process.
Richard Bach wrote, "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."
Perhaps I will redefine my status to that of “professional amateur” or term myself a “proficient unprofessional.” This might be appropriate and should quiet the voice inside my head. Now I can get some sleep.
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